Sony is first off the boat with its new PRS-T2 e-reader for the 2012 Christmas season, beating Kobo and Amazon to the punch — but, unlike the Kobo Glo and the Kindle Paperwhite, it lacks a built-in front-light. Nevertheless, Sony's offering will be able to maintain its place in the e-reader marketplace, due to a few new features ... and fixes.
Like the PRS-T1 before it, the PRS-T2 is cased in hard, lightweight plastic — gloss finish on the front and matte on the back, available in white, red or black. It carries through many of the design elements: the gently curved bottom edge, slanting bezel and five buttons, but the design has been cleaned up a bit, making the reader look more compact — even though at 173x110x9.1mm, it's 0.2mm larger than its predecessor.
It also comes in at four grams lighter, at 164g, making it the lightest 6-inch Sony Reader to date; but you'll not notice that much, especially if you use Sony's official case — which will, admittedly, add another 33 per cent to the price tag, but it is also really useful in a blackout, as it happens.
The five buttons have likewise been pared back; instead of the baguette-shaped strip, each of the buttons is now formed in the shape its icon: page back, page forward, home, return and menu. On the bottom edge is the power button, micro-USB port and reset button, and the MicroSD slot is hidden behind a panel on the back left edge.
Notably absent is the audio jack — because the PRS-T2 no longer supports audio files. We can't say that's something we miss.
Sony introduces its software changes gradually, with few differences between models; but, while the PRS-T2 runs on pretty much the same software as the PRS-T1, there have been a few notable additions.
First, the hardware — both the T1 and the T2 run on a 1GHz processor and support IEEE 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. The new Reader, though, has doubled the battery life from three weeks to six, and has an updated E Ink screen that uses the latest Pearl technology (V220), although still at 800x600p resolution. It doesn't really break any new ground, but it's a bit less grey than before.
As noted above, the PRS-T2 has dispensed with audio support, a change that we don't find surprising — we can't imagine anyone using their e-reader to listen to music, or even ebooks, when they have a smartphone in their pocket, and Sony has never supported text-to-speech (TTS) technology for vision-impaired readers.
The e-reader does come with a stylus, but once again, there is no handy place to store it; we found ourselves using fingers, which work just as well for basic tasks, such as item selection, page-turning and highlighting, although not for scribbling notes. However, the screen is a little more accurate when it comes to the latter than before, meaning the hand-scribbled notes we did make were slightly more legible.
An included dictionary allows you to look up words in-book, holding a finger over a word to open the Oxford definition. The dictionary can be changed using the Menu button if the Oxford isn't your cup of tea. The dictionary can also be used independently, and we were gratified to note that the input keyboard has improved massively, making it faster to enter web pages, write text notes and use other applications as well.
When you hold down on text, you will notice a menu appears, as well as a dictionary definition. By using the sliders that appear around a word, you can select a chunk of text to create a note about it, search for other instances where it appears in the book, or send it to Facebook or Evernote.
The Evernote functionality is particularly great. Not only can you save clips of the books you are reading and add notes, you can also use it on your computer to save e-reader friendly versions of web pages for offline reading, such as recipes, articles and guides, then sync the whole lot up. For those of you who like to use Evernote for everything, it's a boon, especially for students. You can even upload web pages to Evernote from the Reader's browser.
Interestingly, just as an aside, the link to the Sony ebook store — which is not available in Australia, but was nevertheless provided as an application — disappeared from our test unit at some point. That's not a bad thing, since it shouldn't have been there in the first place. Other ebook stores can be accessed from the device's browser application.
One thing we're often quite concerned about is PDF handling, and it's here that the PRS-T2 ran into some hiccups. Usually, Sony's Readers are quite good with the file format, and Reflow is still present, but the Reader stalled and crashed several times on a PDF that contained images. On a PDF that contained text only, it was fine (if a little slower than an EPUB file to turn pages), but if your PDF has images embedded, you might run into a few problems. This was a new one for us — the PRS-T1 had no such difficulty.
The new public library support is perhaps our favourite new feature of the PRS-T2. Once you're connected to Wi-Fi, you can visit the library from wherever you happen to be and — provided you have a card for the library of your choice — borrow ebooks on the spot. This is the first time we've had a close look at e-reader library support in action, and the sheer number of available libraries is dazzling. You can bookmark your favourite libraries to find them again easily, too — a great idea, since you have to get through multiple region menus to find the library you want.
Reading an EPUB ebook was a pleasant experience, with quick load times and seamless page-turns. Since turning the pages using the touchscreen requires a swipe, which can be awkward one-handed, we found ourselves using the navigation buttons. Using the dictionary in-book was likewise smooth, and we found ourselves very impressed with the device's alacrity. Aside from the PDF problem mentioned earlier, it responded very quickly to all our commands.
Battery life seemed fantastic. We used the device for over two weeks without charging (except to plug it into a computer a few times to upload more books), and the battery bar still displayed as full. It wakes from sleep mode as quickly as turning a page, opens books with barely a pause, and keyboard input seems like it can't be from the same developer, so much faster it is.
Navigation can be a little fiddly, and a lot of it involves just poking around until you find what you want, but Sony has been pretty good at providing clear labels and instructions, so it shouldn't take too long to become accustomed to the UI. For those who don't like the Sony desktop software, you can also drop ebook files directly onto the Reader by opening it as an external drive on your computer for files without DRM, or you can use Adobe Digital Editions.
We were also overjoyed to find that the page-flipping issue that is still causing PRS-T1 users grief has been resolved in the PRS-T2.
Although only a few changes have been made from the PRS-T1, those changes are significant. For a first e-reader purchase, the faster speeds, longer battery life and fixes make it worth a look alone; we would put forward that the library and Evernote support make it a serious option for an upgrade.